When entering the Oklahoma State Capitol near the beginning of the session in February, I had no idea what would be in store for Oklahoma over the course of the next few months: the political upset seen in our most recent primary election, record new candidates filing for office, record voter turnout, and the defeat of numerous anti-public school incumbents.
Tulsa World photographer Mike Simons's image of Representative Scott McEachin looking at his watch as teachers sought an audience with him to advocate for their students became a symbol of the attitude several political extremists took during the April 2018 school shutdown.
While the majority of Republican and Democrat legislators opened their doors for discussion, time and again we would hear about legislators locking out their constituents or not even bothering to show up for work.
Some legislators even bowed so low as to invent stories of perceived threats by the teachers being present. Think on that for a minute: They wanted us to buy the narrative that the Pre-K teachers who wipe little noses and teach primary colors were threatening to them.
About a year earlier, 50 pastors from across Oklahoma had converged at First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City in an effort to see if our shared concerns about the state of public education in Oklahoma were on the same page. We found common ground in our concerns and Pastors for Oklahoma Kids was formed.
Since then our fledgling grassroots group has expanded to hundreds of faithful and church leaders across Oklahoma that support our work advocating for public school children.
We were blown away when our Sunday night candlelight prayer rally in front of the state capitol following the first week of the walkout in April grew exponentially from our projected 30 to hundreds of Oklahoma’s faithful.
That night we received reports from others in our network that prayer vigils broke out across the state in Ada, Stillwater, Tulsa, and beyond.
While a bit cliche, Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit, “The Times They Are a Changin” keeps playing over and over in my mind. The teachers of Oklahoma sent a message in the first available election following the walkout: the time for games with our kids is over.
Teachers led the good fight but we know they should not stand alone for our kids. Pastors, small business owners, parents, grandparents and anyone who loves their local community need to be involved in the defense of our good community public schools.
For years now, these schools have faced relentless and unwarranted attacks by politicians and outsiders who want to privatize our public schools.
These deep-pocketed outsiders continue dumping thousands of dollars into our local elections to influence good Oklahomans to vote for their nefarious plans. But we are holding fast and remember the core identity and values we all share of community: watching out for one another and investing in the future.
Teachers, parents, and the community sent a powerful message to all current and future legislators: Leave our schools alone. Invest in our future. We are watching you.
The times they are definitely a-changin’ in Oklahoma.